Set out on a road trip of a lifetime from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park, and discover 500-miles of breathtaking natural wonders, rich history, and western Americana. Trace the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota to the wild terrain of Yellowstone, and discover countless experiences along the way. We’re sharing the best things to do in the parks, where to stay, and which routes to take for your road trip adventure.
Things to do Around Mount Rushmore
Visit the Mount Rushmore National Monument
Come face-to-face with the impressive sculpture of four of America’s most iconic presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the granite mountainside. Learn about the monument’s history on a ranger-led tour, explore the museum and visitor center, watch a short film, and hike the Presidential Trail to gain different perspectives. The evening lighting ceremony is another highlight, where the monument is illuminated against the dark sky while patriotic music plays in the background.
Explore Custer State Park
Just south of Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park offers a wealth of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and fishing. The Wildlife Loop Road is the perfect place to spot the park’s famous bison herds, elk, mountain goats, and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Custer State Park is also home to the famous Needles Highway, a scenic drive with stunning views of towering granite spires and unique rock formations.
Visit Badlands National Park
Explore an otherworldly landscape just 1.5-hours from Mount Rushmore. The park features a mix of rugged canyons, towering spires, and jagged rock formations that seem to go on forever. Take in the views from several scenic drives or hike one of the many trails for a closer look. The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a popular spot featuring exhibits and fossil displays.
Discover the History of the Black Hills
From the gold rush to conflicts between early settlers and Native Americans, the Black Hills played a significant role in America’s history. A must-visit attraction is the Crazy Horse Memorial, a stunning work of art and an ongoing tribute to Native American culture. Visitors can also step back in time by visiting the historic town of Deadwood, once a notorious frontier town once home to Legends of the West, like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.
Go on a Wine Tour
The Black Hills region is home to several wineries that produce a variety of wines, including red, white, and rosé. Sip on some of the local vintages while soaking in the views of the surrounding rolling hills. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast or just looking for a fun and relaxing activity, a wine tour in the Black Hills will surely be a fun and memorable experience.
Where to Stay in Mount Rushmore
Less than 4-miles from Mount Rushmore National Monument lies Under Canvas Mount Rushmore. Tucked within fragrant ponderosa pines on an original gold mining settlement, guests enjoy upscale accommodations with majestic views of Mount Rushmore and the surrounding Black Hills. Under Canvas is a one-of-a-kind home base for those seeking to explore Custer State Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Routes from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone
There are a few different route options, each offering beautiful sights and experiences. The three main routes are the Beartooth Highway, Cloud Peak Skyway, and the Bighorn Scenic Byway. No matter which route you take, plan to spend between 8-9 hours driving without stops.
Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via the Beartooth Highway
Drive Time: 9 hours
As you wind through the mountains, you’ll be treated to stunning views of snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, and alpine lakes. Plenty of pull-offs allow you to stop and take in the incredible views. The Beartooth Highway starts from Red Lodge, Montana, and stops close to Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance, making it a convenient route. Here’s what to see along the way:
Devils Tower National Monument
This 1,267-foot-tall butte is sacred to many Native American tribes and is a popular destination for rock climbers. Hike around the tower’s base on the 1.3-mile Tower Trail or take a guided climbing tour. Watch for prairie dogs, deer, and other wildlife who call this area home.
At an elevation of 10,947-feet, Beartooth Pass is one of the most scenic drives in the country, offering stunning views of the surrounding Beartooth Mountains, valleys, and crystal clear lakes. Stop at Beartooth Pass Vista for sweeping views of the surrounding mountain scenery.
This majestic mountain is the highest point in Montana, situated in the remote wilderness of the Beartooth Mountains, and can be seen from several points along the highway.
This spectacular high-mountain lake is popular for fishing, hiking, and kayaking. Surrounded by breathtaking views of mountains and forests, it’s a great place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Top of the World Store
A historic landmark and popular pit stop for travelers, this general store offers souvenirs, snacks, and stunning views of the Beartooth Mountains. It’s a great place to take a break and soak in the scenery.
Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via the Cloud Peak Skyway
Drive Time: 8 hours
Go on a scenic journey through some of Wyoming’s most beautiful landscapes. The route takes you through the Bighorn National Forest, where you can see towering peaks, pristine lakes, and dense forests. The Cloud Peak Skyway starts at Buffalo and is a 47-mile stretch ending in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, that winds through the Bighorn Mountains, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Loaf Mountain Overlook
Admire the breathtaking scenery of the Cloud Peak Wilderness. The area spans over 189,000 acres and is home to some of the tallest peaks in the Bighorn Range, including Black Tooth Mountain, Cloud Peak, Dayton Peak, Bighorn Peak, and Loaf Mountain. Take in panoramic views of these impressive peaks from the overlook.
Powder River Pass
At 9,666 feet, Powder River Pass is the highest point on the Cloud Peak Skyway. As the road descends into a canyon beyond this point, travelers are treated to the most breathtaking section of the Skyway, showcasing the massive limestone mountains flanking both sides. Many visitors consider this stretch to be the highlight of the journey, with unparalleled views of the rugged landscape.
Ten Sleep Canyon
Driving through Ten Sleep Canyon, you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in the Bighorn Mountains. The canyon features towering rock walls, crystal-clear streams, and wildlife, including bighorn sheep and mule deer. Stop and read the interpretive signs to learn about the area’s history and pause to take in the views.
Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone via the Bighorn Scenic Byway
Drive Time: 9 hours
Explore the rugged beauty of the Bighorn Mountains. Starting at Mount Rushmore and ending in Cody, Wyoming, the byway winds its way through dense forests, past cascading waterfalls, and over stunning mountain passes. The route passes through Dayton, the gateway to Bighorn Scenic Byway.
Sand Turn Interpretive Site
Located on the west side of the Bighorn Mountains, this is a great spot to learn about the history and geology of the region. The site features interpretive displays, hiking trails, and a picnic area with stunning views of Tongue Valley. There are several pull-out stops along the way for taking photos.
Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark
The Medicine Wheel is a prehistoric stone circle believed to have been constructed by Native Americans over a thousand years ago. The site is considered a sacred place by many Native American tribes and is still used for spiritual ceremonies today.
Shells Falls Interpretive Site
Don’t miss the Shell Falls Interpretive Site, where you can explore various hiking trails leading to picturesque views of Shell Canyon and Shell Falls. The 120-foot waterfall cascades down a series of granite boulders. The area gets its name from the abundance of shells ingrained in the rock walls.
Things to Do Around Yellowstone National Park
Perhaps Yellowstone’s most famous attraction, Old Faithful is a predictable geyser that erupts approximately every 90 minutes. Visitors can watch the impressive display of boiling water shooting up to 180-feet in the air from several viewing areas surrounding the geyser.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Experience the sheer majesty of the vast, colorful canyon walls that frame the mighty Yellowstone River. A few overlooks, including Artist Point and Inspiration Point, provide stunning views of the canyon and its waterfalls. Hiking trails and guided tours are also available for those who want to explore to spend more time exploring the canyon area.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone’s oldest and hottest thermal area, featuring a variety of geysers and hot springs. Walk along the boardwalk of the basin, exploring features such as Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser, and the colorful waters of Emerald Spring. The Norris Geyser Basin Museum and Visitor Center also offer exhibits and educational programs about the area’s geology and ecology.
Yellowstone Lake is the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park, offering scenic views and recreational opportunities such as fishing, boating, and hiking. Enjoy a delicious meal on the lakeshore at one of the nearby restaurants.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
Located near the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and only a 20-minute drive from the picturesque town of Livingston and 45-minutes from Bozeman, Montana, Under Canvas North Yellowstone – Paradise Valley offers unparalleled access to Greater Yellowstone. Set on a mile of pristine riverfront of the Yellowstone River, guests can enjoy world-class fly fishing and river float experiences just steps from the lobby tent.
No matter which route you choose it will make for an unforgettable experience. So pack up the car, let the region’s scenic beauty unfold before you, and remember to enjoy the ride!